July 29th was a special day for 20 homeless men living in Groningen: a handful of international business owners from across the north treated them to a free haircut, shave and meal in the city.
All of the participating local business owners are internationals living in the north, originally hailing from South Africa, Cape Verde, Surinam and the United States. The Northern Times spoke with one of the participating entrepreneurs, Thomas Sykes, about what inspired the guys to give back.
The Northern Times: So when did this event take place?
Thomas Sykes: We did it on July 29th.
TNT: And how did the idea come about?
Sykes: My colleague, Kevin and another friend, Riklis, they have a friend who’s a videographer [Albert Mexes], and he wanted to make a video, so we decided to do something – a good deed – so we thought of the homeless. And we thought about a haircut and a dinner.
TNT: How did you notify them about the event?
Sykes: We got in touch with Joram Krol, he’s the photographer, and Siebe [Zwerver from Straatwijs] and they supplied us with the homeless guys. [Editor’s note: Straatwijs, an organisation providing aid and support to the local homeless population also organised a free meal for homeless men and women at IKEA in May]. I myself I already have two guys that I told them they can come once a month, but they come once every 3 months, and I take care of them. We were only expecting 10, but 20 guys showed up.
TNT: Were there any homeless women who took part?
Sykes: We specialise in working with men, but next time, if there is a lady who wants to come too, then we’ll have a lady who can provide haircuts for them.
TNT: Do you think that this idea will inspire other locals to get involved in some way?
Sykes: We’re hoping that people see it and just want to do something, it doesn’t cost anything. I did mine on a Sunday, if I did it in the week then I’d have to turn clients away. A Sunday is just a free day, and we could all do it on a Sunday. [Dave Pretorius and Bouwdewijn Brink] were great, they wanted to fit everyone in for a meal between the regular customers, but they really wanted to treat them like normal people. With a nice haircut, no one could tell the difference.
|Free haircuts international
Hair dressers offering free services to homeless men and women is an increasingly common initiative in the Netherlands and other countries. Back in May, Motiva Straatadvocaten (legal aid lawyers) in Amersfoort asked Darlyn Rafael to provide a trim for homeless men and women. An Australian barber named Nasir Sobhani gives free haircuts on his day off and is known as the Street Barber. In Britain, the Haircuts4Homeless organisation offers free trims across the United Kingdom and Ireland. A non-profit organisation in Rhode Island in the United States provides haircuts, showers and medical exams through a programme called Shower to Empower: many homeless men and women who visit the non-profit’s mobile trailer come there in preparation for a job interview.
TNT: How did the men respond to being pampered like this?
Sykes: Words can’t explain it, they all just had a big smile and this look on their faces, like, “wow, what a transformation.” It was great to see them all complimenting each other afterwards. They were all just really respectful, it was like one big family.
TNT: Are you aware of any similar events in the Netherlands prior to this?
Sykes: Not really. None of us are Dutch ourselves, and a number of the responses we got from Dutch people were only talking about money and what they lose. When I first moved here, they said nothing is for free. But my mom always said, “if you give someone something, don’t expect anything back in return.”
TNT: Are you considering doing this sort of thing again at some point?
Sykes: We thought about doing it once a month, maybe every two months. This one was just a trial phase, but before we do it again, we’ll sit down. I don’t mind doing it once a month, it’s no biggie.
|Homelessness in the Netherlands and the north
As of 2016, nearly 30,000 people were homeless in the Netherlands: the population has almost doubled within 10 years (there were 17,000 homeless people in 2009). In comments to Een Vandaag, Lia van Doorn from the Utrecht University of Applied Sciences stated that the rising numbers are due to an increasingly expensive housing market and little to no additional income or benefits for people. The province of Groningen estimates that nearly 759 people are homeless, but the number of available spaces for them to seek shelter has been decreasing in recent years. In 2015, homeless support foundation Zienn stated that they were providing services to 2,509 people in Groningen, Drenthe and Friesland.
Photo source: Screenshot from video by Albert Mexes